Warren County & Environmental Justice
About Warren County
Warren County is currently home to a population of over 19,800 people and is located in the Northeastern Piedmont of North Carolina. As of 2019, the largest racial or ethnic group residing in Warren County was Black/African American, making up more than 50% of the population. Even as far back as the 1980s, Black residents were the majority in Warren County, making up 59% of the population. Native Americans made up 4% of the population, while White people made up 36%.
The Beginning of a National Movement
It is unclear when the Environmental Justice Movement first began in the United States since Environmental Racism has been an issue for some time. However, the initial spark that brought national attention to the movement can be traced to a massive protest in the 1980s held in Warren County. This protest was brought together by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in response to the state’s decision to designate a small, predominantly Black community to host a hazardous waste landfill. Even with other potential sites that could have been chosen for this purpose, the state decided on this location to build a disposal facility. The landfill would accept soil contaminated with PCB, a compound known to cause cancer and disrupt hormones. This led to over six weeks of peaceful protesting and the arrests of more than 500 people. The protest ultimately failed in stopping the state’s decision to build this landfill, but it brought national attention to the Environmental Justice Movement. It led to communities, specifically poor communities of color, creating organizations that would speak out on these issues of injustice.
It is important to understand that the racial and economic makeup of a population contributes greatly to the injustices committed against that community. Environmental Racism is a form of systemic racism where environmental policies and practices differently affect or disadvantage communities based on race. Environmental justice activists noticed this with the construction of so-called “pollution-production facilities” often being located in poor communities of color.
“Race was the single most important factor in determining where toxic waste facilities were sited in the United States”
- Toxic Wastes and Race in the United State (1987)
Studies that were published in the 1980s and early 1990s provided more evidence to show how poor communities of color were targeted and disproportionately impacted by the construction of these hazardous facilities. One 1983 study conducted by Congress’s General Accounting Office showed that in eight southeastern states, including North Carolina, 75% of the hazardous waste landfills were located in predominantly poor African American and Latino communities.
Warren County is the home of a movement that created a legacy that is still alive today. Systemic racism comes in many forms, but the events that took place here paved the way for a more just environment. By protecting the environment, we also protect the people who live in it.